This page provides an introduction to archival resources available in Wilson Library. The most useful and relevant archival material for researching UNC alumni tends to be found in UNC's University Archives. However, it is also possible that documentation concerning UNC alumni appear in collections of personal and family papers that are contained in the Southern Historical Collection and the Southern Folklife Collection, in addition to published material and photographs in the North Carolina Collection.
In addition to an online catalog record, each archival collection also has an online finding aid. These finding aids are keyword-searchable using the online finding aid search engine. The virtue of conducting a search using this tool is that the return set presents the search words in a textual snippet that allows researchers to help define the relevancy of a collection.
A good starting point would be to search for a student's name in both the library catalog and the finding aid search engine to see if the name appears anywhere in Wilson Library's collections. If no results are returned, see the boxes below for additional resources that may prove fruitful.
If you are researching alumni from the late 18th and very early 19th centuries, information concerning individual students may be found in a number of University Archives record groups that contain documentation from this time period. The most likely record groups are listed below along with a link to their descriptions. Clicking on a link will route you to the collection's finding aid, where you can view lists and descriptions of the individual collections' contents, view any digitized content in the collection that may be available, and request materials to use in the reading room.
As you will note when you review the description of these record groups, with few exceptions, personal names of students are absent. Thus, the best way to approach these collections is to review those sections of materials that date from a student's period of enrollment. Please note that in many instances, the information to be discovered within these record groups is quite brief, cursory, and duplicative—in essence, adding very little to the information contained in the digitized directories and histories listed in the sidebar at right.
The Dialectic Society was the first of two literary societies formed in 1795, the year the University of North Carolina opened. Throughout the nineteenth century, nearly all students were members of one of these societies. Students from the western portion of the state tended to belong to the Dialectic Society.
The Philanthropic Society was the second of two literary societies formed in 1795. Throughout the nineteenth century, nearly all students were members of one of these societies. Students from the eastern portion of the state tended to belong to the Philanthropic Society.
From the founding of the university through the nineteenth century, academic record-keeping was the responsibility of the secretary of the faculty. Originally student exams were oral, and no grades were given. The secretary of the faculty maintained a record of student absences from chapel, recitations, and class sessions. At the end of each term, the Committee on Visitation of the Board of Trustees met on the campus and administered the oral exams. By 1835 a system of grading had evolved and written exams were in use. In 1886 the Board of Trustees created the position of registrar, but the position was assigned to the secretary of the faculty until 1916.
The governing body of the University, from its founding until 1932, was a forty-member Board of Trustees elected by the General Assembly. The administrative structure of the University remained essentially the same until the twentieth century.
The collection includes correspondence, budgets and financial records, building plans and specifications, and other files relating to the work of the Division of Business and Finance at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This group also contains the historical financial records of the university from 1789 to 1920, including scattered accounts of the university's Board of Trustees, Treasurer, and Bursar.
A number of essential works concerning student life and University History have been digitally published, and these works are available to you at home via the internet. To verify an individual's enrollment, level of educational achievement, and membership in the Philanthropic or Dialectic Society, researchers are encouraged to review the following works for the names of alumni. Each of the texts listed below is keyword searchable using the "Ctrl F" or Find function available in your web browser.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) places restrictions on the kinds of student information that can be disclosed to researchers. Records in excess of directory information, including grade reports and other personally identifiable information, are protected from disclosure under FERPA until the time of a student's death. Currently, the university policy on FERPA states that the education records of students will be opened 75 years after the date the records were first created, at which point the student is presumed deceased.
It is extremely rare to find records like those protected under FERPA in Wilson Library's collections; however, in the event that such records do exist in our holdings, we may be unable to provide access to them due to the above regulations.